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Tuesday, March 29, 2005

A Day to Remember

It was a Friday in February and two days before Daniel’s baptism. With Livy’s encouragement, Ray had agreed that they would host a luncheon at the house following the ceremony at church and Livy had been working all week on getting the house ready and planning the menu. She had baked two pies early that morning, but was counting on Martha for another two. Mrs. Pratt of course, would bring a cake. On Saturday she hoped to bake a ham and prepare vegetables for cooking so that there would be little left to do on Sunday when they returned from church.

Martha and Ruth would be arriving before lunch that day to help out and to watch Daniel while Livy drove into Wilson for some last minute odds and ends. Hank and the boys would come to the house too as Ray was repairing the tractor and Hank had the special tool he needed for the job.

The noisy crew arrived promptly at 11:30 and the boys all hurried into the barn to find Ray while the ladies came into the house to find Livy and Daniel.

Chester dashed ahead of the others, proud to be the bearer of the special tool for which Uncle Ray was waiting. He was so focused on getting to the barn first that he didn’t notice Ray turning the corner to exit from the barn and he ran head first into Ray, slamming the tool into Ray’s midsection as he did.

Ray grunted as Chester hit him and put out his hands to steady the boy and to slow any further momentum. Chester looked up at Ray with alarm in his eyes. Ray, getting his breath back had to laugh in light of poor Chester’s terror – “Well where’s the fire Chester?” he asked with a light chuckle.

“I got the tool for you Uncle Ray – I was just hurrying to bring it to you,” he blurted out.

“I can see that,” answered Ray smiling and rubbing his abdomen at the same time.

“Chester!” came the stern reprimand from his father. “You better learn to watch where you are going before you really hurt someone. You okay, Ray?”

“I’m fine, Hank. I’m glad we got some helpers here. Chester, can you go and get me the gas can off the back of the beet box? I’ll need a bit of gas for the tractor before we get started working on it and I best get it back in the truck before Livy heads out.”

“Sure Uncle Ray, I can do that,” he said as he turned to head off to the truck to get the gas tank.

Ray and Hank moved back into the garage to discuss Ray’s plan of action. Chester returned with the gas tank and watched as Ray carefully poured what he needed in to the tractor and gave it back to Chester to return to the truck. Chester took the can, but before he reached the door to the barn, he noticed some evidence that a mouse had been nearby and he put the gas can down just outside the door while he followed the mouse droppings to see where they might lead.

Meanwhile, inside the house Livy poured coffee for Martha and a cocoa for Ruth while they sat and listened to Livy review Daniel’s schedule. Livy ate a sandwich and then put on her coat and found her purse as she readied to depart. Martha would serve lunch to everyone else in a little while.

Livy made her way into the barn to say good bye to Ray and the others. Ray put down his tools and moved toward Livy and gave her a kiss. “The wind is coming out of the north, Livy – it’s likely to snow in a little while so you should plan to get back as quick as you can.”

“Don’t worry, Ray. I’ll be home before anyone has even missed me,” she responded with a fond smile as she touched his cheek.

“I don’t know about that sweetheart, I’ll miss you before the beet box is even out of site,” he said as he raised his eyebrows at her and tilted his head slightly to the side.

Livy laughed and kissed him again before turning to head toward the truck. Ray never left the barn and thus never noticed the gas can still sitting where Chester had left it.

********************************************

Livy headed toward Wilson, humming as she went. She had just a few items to pick up at the grocer in Wilson, but had a secret trip planned to Camp Amache where she would pick up a new suit that Florrie and Rose had made for her especially for the baptism. She wanted to surprise Ray so she hadn’t said a word about the fittings, nor had she let him know that she would be driving out there today. She wouldn’t be long so he would have no reason to suspect. The suit would be beautiful and she hoped that he would be pleased to see her in it.

As she left the grocer with her packages, she noticed the wind picking up and the sky darkening. She clutched her coat around her and hurried to the truck. As she drove to Camp Amache, the snow began to fall. She hastened along and arrived to find Rose and Florrie waiting for her. She declined the very final fitting in order to avoid any further delay and assured Rose and Florrie of her confidence that it would fit. They would get to admire the suit on Sunday as they would be guests at the luncheon.

By the time Livy left the Camp, the snow had picked up and the visibility had grown worse. She quickly checked the gas tank and was dismayed to realize that the tank was quite low. Ray no doubt believed that she had enough gas to get to Wilson and back – he hadn’t factored the side trip to Camp Amache. She decided to refill the tank before starting out, but was further dismayed to find that the gas tank was not in the back of the truck. Livy said a quick prayer that she would make it home and started out before it got any later.

Livy gripped the wheel for much of the drive as she hunched forward to peer through the windshield as the snow thickened. She was determined to be brave and venture on. She thought of Ray and Danny waiting for her and vowed to be home soon. As she started to say another prayer, she heard the engine sputter and gradually grow more erratic before completely coming to a stop. Livy closed her eyes briefly and then hopped out to open the hood of the truck (as if she would know what to look for), but she knew she had run out of gas.

She looked around trying to determine where she was. Although it was snowing steadily at least it was still day time and she had a sense of where she was in relation to the farm – she estimated that it was about three miles along the road. She grabbed her purse from the truck and set out toward the farm – it would be a slow walk and she thought of Ray and Danny waiting for her and started forth.

*********************************

Martha stood up and started to clear the table after everyone had finished eating. She said that Livy had wanted Danny to go in for his nap about then and asked Ray if he wanted to do that or should she.

“I’ll take him up, Martha. With the snow having started, I better switch from working on that tractor to keeping things swept and shoveled so the walkways are passable come Sunday. I hope Livy will be along before too long – I don’t like having her out there driving when the weather turns bad.”

“She said she wouldn’t be long, Ray. There’s a lot to do around here for Sunday and I know she wanted to get back soon,” said Martha reassuringly.

“Hope so,” said Ray, frowning as he carried Danny upstairs to put him in his cradle.

**********************************

About an hour later, after he had swept off the walkways and the porch with the help of Hank and the boys, Ray came in to the house to find Martha with a frown on her face. He said to her “I thought Livy would be back by now Martha – don’t you think she’d be back from her shopping by now?”

“Probably so Ray, but she no doubt is driving slowly in this weather. I bet she’ll be along any minute,” assured Martha.

“Maybe so, but I’d like to borrow your truck to drive out along the road between here and Wilson to see if I can meet up with her,” Ray said. “You can manage here can’t you, Martha?”

“Sure we can, honey. You go do what you need to do and bring your wife home safe,” Martha replied.

‘Thanks sis,” said Ray as he gave her a quick hug and accepted the keys from Hank.

“I can come along Ray,” offered Hank.

“Might be a good idea for you to stay here Hank, just in case,” said Ray. “But thanks.”

He grabbed his coat and without delay headed out the door and to the truck.

He headed out along the road to Wilson, trudging along slowly as he peered through the poor visibility. He grew more and more worried as he got closer and closer to Wilson without encountering Livy in the beat box. Eventually, he made it to the store in Wilson where he got out of the truck and scanned the street for the sign of the beet box parked somewhere in the area. He went into the store and asked the shopkeeper about Livy.

“Mrs. Singleton was here, Ray. But she left some time ago, just before the snow started,” the shopkeeper told him.

The blood left Ray’s face as he heard the shopkeeper give him this report. He left the store and went to the payphone to call the house to see if Livy had returned. He was grateful to Livy at that moment that there was a phone at the house. Martha answered after one ring.

“Martha, it’s Ray,” he said. “Has Livy gotten back?” he asked, the anxiety in his voice thick.

“No, Ray. But the Umahara girls called to see if Livy got back safely. I guess she stopped there on her way back from the store in Wilson.”

Ray thought for a moment. “She probably had to refill the tank if she did that – I don’t think there was enough gas in the beet box to make it that far.”

“Ray,” Martha said cautiously. “We found your gas can outside the barn door. Chester forgot to put it back in the truck.”

Ray groaned. “I need to go Martha,” he said abruptly and he hung up the phone and ran to the truck and sped down the road toward Camp Amache. He knew he would need to continue past the camp since Livy had left there and presumably headed home. He was beginning to think that somewhere between Camp Amache and home Livy had run out of gas. What she had done at that point, he couldn’t guess, but he was going to find her.

He sped past Camp Amache and continued along the road toward his farm – their farm he silently corrected himself. Their farm.

He began to pray as he raced along the road. The snow was covering the dirt roads, making it a bit tricky to discern the road from the fields that bordered it. He knew the roads quite well and managed to stay on them reasonably well, but he worried that Livy might not have been able to stay on the road as easily.

After what seemed an eternity, he spotted the beat box. As he had anticipated, it was off the road a bit, but easily reachable. He skidded to a stop next to the beat box and then jumped out of Hank’s truck and ran at the same time. He flung open the passenger door to find the truck empty. He quickly closed the door and looked around frantically. “Livy!” he called. “Livy, are you there?”

He got back into Hank’s truck and started to drive in the direction of the farm, creeping along slowly and keeping his window open so that he might hear something. The snow was swirling, continuing to make it hard to see. He stopped every 100 yards or so to get out and to call for Livy. He continued this pattern for a bit and noted that he must have traveled a mile or a little more. If Livy was walking home, she was going to be very cold and very wet and his worry was mounting with each passing minute.

He continued on and each time ran perpendicular to the roadway to make sure that he wasn’t missing her if she had veered from the road. “Livy!” he called. “Livy, can you hear me? Livy, are you out there?”

Then he finally heard it -- the faint sound of a voice calling “Ray?” Then again, “Ray!” He turned around and ran across the road and to the other side. “Livy! Where are you?”

“I’m here Ray!” she called, her voice growing louder as she moved toward where his voice was coming from. She tried to run, but her legs and feet were numb with cold. Suddenly she saw him emerge from the swirling snow, running toward her. “Livy!” he called as he swooped her up in a hug. She threw her arms around his neck and squeezed him so tightly that he could barely breathe. He kissed her hair several times realizing that her hair was caked with snow.

“We need to get you home, Livy. You’ll freeze.” He lifted her up and carried her to Hank’s truck, which was still running and relatively warm. He put her into the passenger side of the truck and then hurried around and slid behind the wheel. He turned the heat up as high as it would go and pulled Livy over to the middle of the seat where she could sit close to him and take some heat from his body.

He quickly put the truck into gear and sped home. Livy leaned on Ray and put her head down on his shoulder as her teeth chattered. “I was so worried about you Livy, I was going out of my mind just thinking something terrible might have happened to you.”

Livy started to cry, “I’m so sorry Ray. I was so stupid to go to Camp Amache without telling anyone.” She started to cry harder. “I was so terrified that I was never going to see you and Danny again.”

“It’s okay, Livy. You are safe now and we’re almost home. Look ahead, you can see the lights of the house through the snow,” Ray said soothingly.

Livy looked up and saw the house and felt a wave of relief, but the sight of the house and the thought that Danny was inside brought on another round of tears. Ray grasped her hand and murmured, “It’s okay, Livy. It’s okay.”

Soon they pulled up to the house where Ray stopped the truck and then hurried around to help Livy out the side door. The snow in her hair had melted, but he could see that she was soaking wet and she was still shivering uncontrollably. He lifted her again and carried her to the house. “Let me try to walk please, Ray. I’m so embarrassed and don’t want to look more a fool than I already feel.”

“Livy, you are not a fool. If that gas can had been in the back of the truck like it ought to have been, you would have been home long ago. You were amazing to have walked as far as you did in this weather. Don’t you be embarrassed now – it’s family in there,” Ray said reassuringly and almost sternly.

He opened the door and led her inside. The house was bright and warm and Livy struggled to hold back her tears as she took in the familiar sites of what was now home. Martha and Hank and the children rushed toward the door as they entered and showered Livy with hugs, cheers, apologies, and a few tears. Martha led Livy away from the others, saying, “Why don’t I help Livy get these cold wet things off and change into some dry things. That coffee should be ready so someone can get her a cup and someone else can stoke that fire and get it good and hot. We’ll be right down.” They slowly went up the stairs as Livy’s legs were still numb and sore.

Ray shook himself out of his wet coat and hung his hat on the rack. He pulled off his boots which had soaked through and started toward the fire to stoke it. He was pretty cold himself so he tried to warm his hands and feet while no one was looking. Hank went into the kitchen where he and Ruth poured coffee for the adults and made cocoa for the kids. By the time they got back to the parlor, Martha and Livy were coming back down, Livy in her flannel nightgown and her robe, socks and slippers on her feet. Martha led her to the chair by the fire where Ruth put a blanket around Livy’s shoulders. Ray handed her the coffee, which she held by the handle with one hand and warmed her other hand by putting in up against the side of the mug.

“How are you doing, Livy?” he asked gently.

She nodded and managed a small smile. “A little better now that I’m out of those wet clothes.”

Everyone grew quiet, not sure what to say or what to ask – they knew Livy was feeling emotional and embarrassed by what had happened. Suddenly, Chester burst into tears. “I’m sorry Aunt Livy. I’m so sorry that I forgot to put the gas can back. It’s all my fault that you got lost and near froze!” he sobbed.

Livy’s eyes widened in surprise at Chester’s emotional confession. She looked around at the others with a bewildered look on her face. She didn’t know any of what had transpired with the gas can and looked to Ray for some sense of what was going on.

“Aw Chester,” said Ray. “You didn’t do it on purpose buddy – and I know it’s something that will never happen again.”

Taking Ray’s cue, Livy said, “Chester honey, please don’t blame yourself. I’m here safe and sound and that’s all that matters right now.” She held out a hand to him and he ran toward her taking her hand first and then throwing his hands around her neck.

“I’m really glad you’re safe Aunt Livy. We don’t know what we’d do without you now,” he exclaimed.

Livy smiled as she rubbed her hand up and down his back. “Well, I’m not going to give you a chance to find out little man. It would take more than a snow storm to separate me from this family!”

She kissed his head as he moved away from her and went to sit next to his mother on the sofa. Martha put her arm around him. Ray said to Chester. “Tell you what, Chester. Tomorrow, you and I will get your daddy to drive us out to where the beat box is – we’ll take that gas can with us, fill her up and drive her on home.”

“Really? Can I mama?” he looked to Martha.

Martha laughed and said, “I think you better do that Chester.”

Suddenly they heard Danny cry out as he awoke from his nap. Ray got up quickly to go upstairs to bring him down. As soon as he’d changed Danny’s diaper he brought him down the stairs and gave him directly to Livy who reached out to eagerly hold him. Knowing that Danny needed to be fed, Martha shooed the group from the room and offered to make dinner. Ray looked to Livy and said, “Sounds great, Martha” as Livy nodded her consent and agreement.

***************************

Once they were alone, Ray sat down facing Livy. Livy had a sad look on her face as she gazed down at Danny as he nursed. “I was so frightened out there, Ray. Not so much for myself, but for fear that Danny would be motherless.”

Ray stayed silent. He wanted to ask her why she’d gone to Camp Amache without telling anyone, especially knowing that the storm was coming. He didn’t want to appear angry or didn’t want to make her feel worse than she already did. He figured she’d tell him in time.

“Livy, God didn’t bring you all this way to us only to take you away – I think you’re meant to be here with us for a long time,” Ray said, trying to reassure her.

Livy smiled up at him with eyes shining from her tears. “I hope you are right,” she responded softly.

“I am right and one of these days you’re going to remember that I usually am!” he teased.

“Okay,” she said more lightly. “You are right and I’ll be staying around a long while.”

“I wonder, Livy,” he started slowly. “I wonder if we should hold off on that lunch on Sunday.”

“Oh Ray, we can’t cancel. People will be disappointed and I can’t let them down. I really think people want to see our home now that there’s a Mrs. Singleton here – I can’t let you down.”

“You don’t have to prove anything to me, Livy. I already think a lot of Mrs. Singleton and no lunch is going to change that,” he said.

She smiled and said, “We still have all of tomorrow to finish getting ready and there isn’t all that much to do, Mr. Singleton.”

“Well, if you are sure. And if you promise to rest up a bit,” he said a bit sternly. “Are you getting warm yet?”

“Yes, I am finally. Holding this little guy close sure helps,” she said.

Ray raised an eyebrow and said, “I wonder what holding this big guy might do for you?”

Livy looked at him with a bit of surprise. “What happened to getting rest?” she asked him.

“I just said holding, I didn’t say anything else,” he said with exaggerated defensiveness. Ray was glad for the opportunity to help Livy relax and settle down after what had happened because it was helping him do the same. He could still tense up thinking about what might have happened to Livy out there and remembering how worried he had been.

Martha came in and called them to the supper table. Ray quickly moved to take Danny from Livy and to help her up with his free hand. Although the numbness and cold had gone away she was still a bit sore and a little unsteady. Ray held her hand and they moved toward the table and he managed to pull a chair out for her with one hand while he held Danny with the other.

The meal began with a prayer of thanks for the food and for the safe return of Livy and Ray, too. Livy added her own thanks for the family members surrounding her.

After dinner, Martha and her family cleared and washed up and left for home.

Ray saw them to the door and then returned to Livy in the living room - she was seated on the sofa with her feet tucked underneath her. She had put Danny in the downstairs cradle where he was sleeping peacefully. Ray sat down on the floor near the fire and took off his socks. “I’ve wanted to take off these wet socks ever since we got back,” he said.

“Well, why on earth didn’t you, sweetheart?” Livy asked.

“Just never seemed to be the right time – I didn’t want to leave you to go upstairs and get dry socks. I don’t want to leave you now either – your face looks so pretty in the firelight,” he said. They hadn’t turned on the lights as it grew dark outside so the room was aglow from the fire.

Livy moved off the sofa and sat down on the floor next to Ray and took one of his feet in her hands and began to gently rub it.

“Oh boy, does that feel good,” he said.

“Well, you were my hero today. Why don’t you just lie back and I’ll give you a little foot rub. I’m pretty good at this – I used to rub Mama’s feet when she was sick and she really liked it.”

Ray did as she suggested, putting his hands behind his head while positioning his head so he could still see her, but he eventually closed his eyes as she massaged his feet.

He wasn’t sure how long the massaging went on, but he noticed when it stopped. He peeked out of the corner of one eye to see Livy positioning herself right next to him, placing her head on his shoulder and her right arm across his stomach. He moved his arms so they were around her. He thought maybe she’d want to rest and maybe even fall asleep until he felt her hand start to wander around his abdomen.

Ray took that as a call to action and turned on his side to kiss Livy. Livy eagerly returned his kiss and their passion ignited there in front of the fire.

Affection took its natural course and afterward, Ray jumped up and dodging their clothes that were now strewn about the room, grabbed a blanket from the sofa to cover them both. They snuggled beneath the blanket and Ray said, “I guess Danny’s won’t be the only christening this weekend.”

Livy looked at him quizzically.

“I believe we just christened this room and this rug in particular,” he said raising his eyebrows at her.

They both laughed and fell asleep under the blanket, in front of the fire, with their son sleeping soundly a few feet away.

Christening story to come….

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